Friday, September 5, 2008

A Tale of Two Cities

It's already time for discussion! Leave your comments...I have none, as I have yet to make it through the second chapter. I made the boneheaded mistake of not buying the book and just borrowing it from the library.

Turns out that I just cannot read a book if I can't underline and circle stuff in it.

Enjoy your discussion this month with each other!


Anonymous said...

Before last month I had never read "A Tale of Two Cities" and I didn’t even know what it was about. I checked out a children’s book on The French Revolution to help me get my bearings – Who were the Kings and Queens of England and France, What was the basic timeline of the French Revolution – but I didn’t read any summaries or commentaries on "A Tale of Two Cities" until I had finished it for myself. I am so glad I read it this way!

As soon as I finished reading the story, I thought about how I reacted to the characters on this first reading and how I’ll react to them when I read this book again…and I do intend to read it again in a year or two.

On this first reading, dear Mr. Lorry was a favorite character of mine. From the beginning I didn’t believe his “business, business” one bit. Dickens made it clear that Mr. Lorry cared deeply for and about the Manettes. I see that same loyalty and pressing forward in the name of duty in my grandmother. I’ll respect him even more on the next time through.

I’m embarrassed to say that I thought very little of Sydney Carton. It seemed to me that he and Stryver were unattractive male characters added to make Charles Darnay look good…since Dickens didn’t try very hard to help me know and fall in love with Darnay himself. So, I never trusted Carton, not even in his private speech with Lucy. And as the action rose, I forgot all about Carton until he showed up on the scene! Oh, but the next read through I’ll forgive Sydney Carton all his faults from the beginning. I’ll look for the “Savior” in him.

In contrast to Carton, I thought I understood Madame Defarge. Well, I mean, I thought I could sympathize with her. After reading about the food shortages and pondering what I might be like, what I might be willing to do to gain representation…and food…for my family and others, suffering, while the wealthy disdained me for my poverty, I believed Madame Defarge was acting reasonably. Not knowing the story, I tried very hard to understand her character. Now that I know her bloodthirsty cruelty, I’ll not even try to be sympathetic.

And Lucy Manette, well, she seemed to me like the Proverbs 31 woman – an ideal woman but not real.

I know I haven’t said much about "A Tale of Two Cities". I’ve given only a few first impressions. I spent more of my time pondering the French Revolution. How did it differ from our own American Revolution? I would love to hear others thoughts on this.

Our own Declaration of Independence references “Nature’s God”, a “Creator”, and “the Supreme Judge of the World”. The French Declaration of Rights refers only to “Nature” and to “Man”. Did the lack of a Christian foundation prevent a Constitutional Republic from being formed in France?

In some of my reading I found a bit of an article Noah Webster wrote in 1794 about the French Revolution, at the time in the hands of the Jacobins:

“But society cannot exist without government. Experience and severe calamities will ultimately teach the French nation, that government immediately in the hands of the people, of citizens collected without law, and proceeding without order, is the most violent, irregular, capricious, and dangerous species of despotism – a despotism infinitely more terrible than the fixed steady tyranny of a monarch, as it may spring up in a moment, and unexpectedly spread devastation and ruin, at any time, in any place, and among any class of citizens…”

I have been discouraged of late by what I consider to be two less-than-ideal candidates for President. I would like someone who is TRULY interested in smaller government and individual liberties, someone who TRULY loves the words and the spirit of our Constitution. But after considering Noah Webster’s words, I am grateful for our form of government. It is still good and it is much preferred over mob rule. And yet, part of the Jacobin terror included “atheistical attacks on Christianity” (Noah Webster again). I wonder, can our “form” of a Christian government without the “substance” of a Christian nation continue to protect us from our own “Reign of Terror”?

Looking forward to the thoughts of better thinkers!
Sharon in KY

Mr. Mordecai said...

Alas, due to a variety of distractions, I wasn't able to get through the whole book last month. I did, however, make it through a reasonable part of it, and am happy to offer a few thoughts:

First, Dickens is challenging to read -- at least, for me. I have found in the past (and this experience was similar) that I really admire and love his stories. They are wonderfully thought through and certainly deserve their place among the classics.

That said, I also find his writing to be a bit overly-descriptive and rambling at times. Personally, the best thing for me this time around was to listen to an audio book, rather than read. It helped to be able to do something else while I was half-listening to some of the more lengthy descriptions.

Although I didn't make it through the entire book, I am familiar with the overall plot, and I can certainly relate to what Sharon said about Sydney Carton. I think that Dickens does an excellent job of showing that there can be a bit of good in all of us. I hope to be able to always keep that always in mind. It’s good to remember that although you may not be overly fond of someone (for whatever reason), they may still turn out to be good at heart. Hopefully we can all be a little more slow to judge.

That said, the other impression that stuck with me from the portion that I read is that although the French Revolution was famously bloody and brutal, there were pretty scary things happening in England as well. I was shocked, in part two, chapter two to read the following, describing the court case in England:

"Ah!" returned the man, with a relish; "he'll be drawn on a hurdle to be half hanged, and then he'll be taken down and sliced before his own face, and then his inside will be taken out and burnt while he looks on, and then his head will be chopped off, and he'll be cut into quarters. That's the sentence."

"If he's found Guilty, you mean to say?" Jerry added, by way of proviso.

"Oh! they'll find him guilty," said the other. "Don't you be afraid of that."

It’s nice to know that we’ve made at least a little progress over the past few hundred years. Hopefully we can continue to improve in the future.

Mr. Mordecai